Let’s get this out of the way: You’re Californian and now live in Oregon. Sarah is Minnesotan and lives there. How’d that happen? I imagine this is the most frequent question you get about Sarah.
The short answer is, I spent three years in Minneapolis, going
to grad school in journalism. Then I got a newsroom job in California, and I
hadn’t been back all that long when the character of Sarah Pribek started to
take shape in my mind. It was really clear to me that she lived and worked in
the Twin Cities.
However, the subtext to that question is usually, “Why not write
about California, since that’s where you live.” My answer is that I need a
firewall between my real and fictional worlds.
I need the setting of a book to be not quite real, like a movie set on
which the story plays out.
Also, Sarah is a transplanted Westerner; she’s from New Mexico.
I knew better than to try to give Sarah the voice and memories of someone who
grew up in Albert Lea, eating walleye-on-a-stick at the county fair. Some of
her memories of being a newcomer to Minnesota reflect mine. In Sympathy
Between Humans, she remembers finding it strange to be in a place where ‘it
had to get warm enough to snow.’ That’s a very weird idea to someone from a
more southern climate.
By the way, that’s not the most frequent question about Sarah.
Note: This q-and-a contains mild spoilers for ‘Hailey’s War.’
Hailey Cain is 23 as Hailey’s War opens. Why such a young
That has its roots in how the success of 37th Hour changed my life. When I first had the idea for the Sarah Pribek novels, I was 29 and working full-time in a newsroom, a disciplined, deadline-oriented environment. Most of the people I worked with were in their 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. I created a world for Sarah that was similar. She worked in law enforcement, a hierarchal world with clear rules (even if she broke them sometimes).
Then I sold 37th
Hour and made enough money to quit my newsroom job. I bought my first home,
a condo in a complex full of college students, just up the hill from San Luis
Obispo’s downtown core, where those students drank and partied. I didn’t party,
but with no job, I could live more or less like a student, staying up late and
sleeping until noon. Then I’d write, or not (there was a lot of ‘not,’ in those
days). Late in the afternoon, I’d go out to the MMA gym by the university and
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d crash-landed on the
Planet of the Young. I overheard their drunken revels and arguments and fights.
Their Kanye West and Gnarls Barkley drifted from car windows. They were my
training partners at the gym. I didn’t realize how much this was affecting me
until I sat down at 36 and wrote a book in which no major character is over 25.